Korn has been instrumental in bringing the edge to the center

CD REVIEWS

April 22, 1999

Korn and others

Family Values Tour '98 (Immortal/Epic 69904)

As roving rock festivals go, the Family Values Tour has nowhere near the name recognition enjoyed by the likes of Lollapalooza, Lilith Fair, H.O.R.D.E. or even Ozzfest.

Masterminded by hip-hop-influenced hard rockers Korn, last year's Family Values Tour was mostly built around edgy, extreme acts unlikely to turn up in the Top 40 -- or, in some cases, even on MTV. Gangsta rap star Ice Cube was perhaps the best-known participant; rounding out the bill were Rammstein, Limp Bizkit, Orgy and Incubus, names that mean nothing outside hard rock and industrial music circles.

In short, the Family Values Tour was a package aimed squarely at the fringes, at fans whose frame of reference is so far off the radar for the mainstream pop audience it may as well not exist. And yet, not only did the tour pack arenas from coast to coast, but the album version, "Family Values Tour '98," has been an immediate Top-10 hit.

How is this possible? In large part because over the last two years, Korn has very quietly become the most popular and influential hard-rock band around.

Just as Metallica changed the rules in the late '80s, pulling the ferocious physicality of thrash into the rock and roll mainstream, so has Korn changed the face of metal in the late '90s. Drawing on a range of unlikely influences -- including hip-hop, punk and industrial music -- Korn rewrote the book on hard rock, augmenting the rigid riffage of thrash with slap-and-pop bass and funky drumming.

So even though a song like "Freak on a Leash" boasts as much aural drama as any Metallica epic, its soundscape is completely different, with lighter textures and an unmistakable sense of groove. "Twist/Chi" is equally full of surprises, from its angular, art-rock guitar lines (shades of King Crimson!) to its guttural rapping. But "Got the Life" manages the most stunning trick of all -- it actually makes Korn sound like a pop band!

None of the other acts on the Family Values roster come across as powerfully audacious as Korn, but the best aren't that far behind. Ice Cube does a short, hit-heavy set including an N.W.A. medley that makes those gangsta classics sound totally at home as arena rock, while Limp Bizkit makes impressive use of its guitar-and-turntables front line to reinvent House of Pain's "Jump Around" and George Michael's "Faith."

Orgy's brittle, distortion-heavy sound doesn't bring much to the New Order oldie "Blue Monday," but it does put some fairly sharp teeth into original tunes like "Dissention." Even so, the band is no match for the German industrial outfit Rammstein, whose give-no-quarter rendition of "Du Hast" is a virtual sonic blitzkrieg. * * *1/2

-- J.D. Considine

Jazz

Sphere

Sphere (Verve 314 557 796)

The late Sunday morning dilemma: What goes with a sun-filled family room, bagels and cream cheese, freshly brewed coffee and friends who just dropped by to get caught up? Benson is too bland. Ferguson, too frantic. Parker, too overpowering. "Sphere," the latest collaboration of jazz pianist Kenny Barron, drummer Ben Riley and bassist Buster Williams -- and this time, saxophonist Gary Bartz -- is just right. Barron is one of the most intelligent mainstream pianists around. With his three friends, he creates a seven-song set that includes two compositions by Thelonious Sphere Monk (for whom the group is named), an elegant Billy Strayhorn piece and some Rodgers and Hammerstein. Sphere makes a Sunday brunch well rounded. * * *

-- Candus Thomson

Pop/Rock

Love Riot

Heaven Can Wait (Deck Party Music LR 103)

Baltimore's own Love Riot has all the makings of a big commercial pop band. New disc "Heaven Can Wait" features catchy melodies on every track and arrangements that sound like money: tight drumming, guitar that can be sparkly acoustic or arena-electric as needed, and steady doses of rock violin. Lead singer Lisa Mathews' voice, though, takes center stage, sliding from soothing and soft to Tori Amos-like muscle -- often on a single song. Love Riot sounds best on tracks that rely less on vocal or production tricks and more on straight-ahead songcraft. "Satisfied," "Find Me There" and "Looking for You" show the charm and potential of a band that has already had one big break by appearing on TV's "Homicide." * *1/2

-- Greg Schneider

Pub Date: 04/22/99

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